Тема: Marc Bennetts "The People’s Wrath" - Марк Беннетс "Народный гнев"
Какой-то человек на форуме написал, что прочел фрагмент книги Марка Беннетса про Путина и его преступления. Автор очень переживал, что там и про Хопер написано. Предлагал даже какой-то кусок перевести.
Автор поста не жалеет себя - сочувствую.
Чтобы не содействовать его мучениям - посылаю целиком главу прекрасного журналиста Марка, который был у нас на Хопре и помог включить нашу борьбу в международную повестку. Чтобы про нее узнали в тех краях, куда офшорные мудаки хотели наш никель продать.
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The protest movement may have been cracking up under relentless Kremlin pressure, but the discontent that inspired its challenge to Putin’s rule was going nowhere. Regional issues – economic, environmental and social – continued to stir up dissent in the country’s provinces. Massive increases in payments for housing utilities triggered demonstrations in central and north Russia in the spring of 2013, signalling new dangers for the authorities.
Around the same time, I began to hear reports of rising tensions in central Russia’s fertile Black Earth region, known for centuries as the country’s ‘breadbasket’, where locals were unhappy about a Kremlinbacked nickel-mining project. The dispute was a classic example of the arrogance and intransigence of Russian officials when faced with popular discontent. Opinion polls had indicated that 98% of locals were against the extraction project,1 which they feared would prove catastrophic for both their health and local agriculture. A series of well-attended protests had even made national news. But regional officials – let alone the Kremlin – were not listening. Appeals for a referendum on the proposed mining had been stonewalled and the activists had – predictably – been 236 Kic k ing the Kremlin subject to a smear campaign that painted them as Western agents seeking to spark unrest. Their homes had also been raided by police and FSB agents.
The fears that nickel would bring disaster to the area were well founded. Nickel extraction has blighted towns and cities across Russia, most notably north Siberia’s Norilsk, which has been transformed by nickel-ore smelting into one of the most polluted places on Earth, 2 with life expectancies some ten years lower than Russia’s already unenviable average of sixty-nine (and just sixty-four for men). 3 I had ties with the area: it was in the region’s biggest city, Voronezh, that I had first met my wife, Tanya. As the year went on, we started to hear more and more from friends and acquaintances about the resistance to the project. One of the leaders of the Black Earth protest movement was Konstantin Rubakhin, a thirty-seven-year-old poet and former Channel One analyst, who had spent part of his childhood in a tiny, picturesque village in the region; his family still owned a home there.
‘News about the project was a massive shock,’ Rubakhin, tall, fairhaired and dressed all in black, told me when I met him at Masterskaya, a club-cum-café tucked just out of sight of the Kremlin’s walls. It was here that activists had organized election protests in the delirious winter and spring of 2011 and 2012. ‘I’d been living away from the area for over ten years,’ he went on, ‘but I immediately returned to help fight against the project.’ Rubakhin was all too aware of the risks of environmental activism in Russia. ‘I’ve taken steps to defend myself,’ he told me, flashing a traumatic pistol, a handgun that shoots rubber bullets at high velocities.
Like Razvozzhayev, the Left Front member abducted by the security forces in Kiev, Rubakhin was also an aide to the leftist lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev. But he was reluctant to link the discontent simmering over the nickel-extraction project with the anti-Kremlin demonstrations that
had rocked Moscow.
‘What’s going on in the Black Earth region is something else, completely different,’ he told me, raising his voice over the music at the club as he repocketed his weapon.
We Used to See All Those People Marching in Moscow…
A week after meeting Rubakhin in Moscow, I took an overnight train to the Black Earth region, where he met me on an icy platform before driving me to see the woman who had helped spearhead the anti-nickel campaign. ‘Nickel brings death,’ said Nelly Rudchenko, a jolly fiftysomething housewife who sold headscarves for a living. We sat in her chaotic yet cosy home in the village of Novokhopyorsk (population 6,849). ‘This is the heart of Russia, and these people are going to kill it,’
she told me, pronouncing her words with the soft ‘g’ of the region. As we spoke, her husband brought us a hearty breakfast and Rubakhin, who had been up all night planning the eco-activists’ next move, snored away loudly on a couch. ‘This land is our richest resource and they have no right to destroy it for some nickel,’ she said, spitting out the name of the metal with a sudden anger. ‘But this is all the influence of the West, which teaches people to live for today, and not to care about the future.’5
Rubakhin was right when he said that the dissent triggered by the nickel project was far removed from the Moscow-based white-ribbon movement, but there was a growing understanding among the Black Earth activists of the motives of the anti-Putin protesters. For Rudchenko, and many other locals, the nickel project had radicalized their political views, breaking the spell cast by state-controlled television. ‘We all used to watch the Zombie box and hear all these wonderful things that
our leaders say,’ she smiled, appropriating the anti-Putin movement’s disparaging nickname for Kremlin-backed television. Her husband nodded in agreement. ‘When we first saw all these people marching in Moscow against Putin, we were amazed. “Why would they do that?” But, when we started to face our own problems here, we quickly began to understand. We know now that the authorities have no respect for the people.’
The Black Earth protests might have been directed specifically against the nickel project, rather than the Kremlin, but these were encouraging signs for the anti-Putin movement’s leaders. Not that they showed much 238 Kic k ing the Kremlin interest in getting involved besides the occasional retweet of Rubakhin’s updates. One exception was eco-activist Chirikova, who paid a visit to the region to support the nickel protesters. ‘It’s very easy to get people to take action when their health, the health of their children is threatened,’ she told me, back in Moscow. ‘It’s harder to get them involved when it
concerns more abstract concepts, even like vote fraud. And that’s entirely understandable.’
The experiences of the Black Earth region protesters were similar to those Chirikova had gone through while battling the Kremlin-backed highway. She had also spent months writing letters of complaint, before realizing that only direct action would make a difference. It also took Chirikova time to understand the link between her local problem and the wider implications of Putin’s rule. It was a connection the Black Earth activists had yet to make.
FSB officers had recently turned up at Rudchenko’s modest home, rifling through her boxes of headscarf material in search of evidence, after an official was slightly injured in a scuffle with activists. ‘Of course, I never in my life thought I’d have my house searched by the FSB,’ she
said, smiling. ‘My family has roots here that stretch back centuries. We have always lived peacefully and quietly. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the split-up of the Soviet Union, these events had hardly any impact on our way of life, And now this nickel is going to destroy
us all.’ Rubakhin’s house deep in the countryside had also been searched.
‘My father told me this was actually the fourth time our house here has been raided since it was built,’ the Moscow-based activist said with a wry smile. ‘The other three times were by the KGB.’
The spread of the internet had, inevitably, played a major role in fomenting this unexpected dissent in Russia’s conservative heartland. ‘Before, we would all have been isolated from one another, with no way of finding out if what they said on television was true,’ Rudchenko said.
She gestured towards a computer underneath a religious icon. ‘Now almost every home in the village is linked to the internet. This makes it easy to organize ourselves.’
The Curse of Nickel
We drove deep into the countryside, towards the site of the planned mining project, already cordoned off and guarded round the clock by security guards employed by UGMK, the mining company that had won the Kremlin’s tender for extraction rights. I had slept badly on the train
and the motion of the vehicle and the pale sunlight streaming through the car window lulled me to sleep. Rubakhin woke me from my doze to point out a nature reserve threatened by the nickel project. Huge bison had once roamed the sprawling Khoper Reserve, but it was an extremely
rare breed of water mammal called the Russian desman that activists were now trying to protect. ‘The mentality of the local administration is just amazing,’ Rubakhin laughed. ‘I told an official any nickel mining in the region would kill the Russian desman off, and he said, “What do you want to worry about those animals for, anyway? There are hardly any of them left.”’
The Black Earth region’s Cossacks, descendants of the fierce horsemen who once guarded Tsarist-era Russia’s borders, were among the most vocal opponents of the nickel project. A group of them had been camped out in the area since the start of the year, keeping watch over the land. It was these Cossacks who erected a massive cross to ‘protect’ the countryside from what one of them described to me as the ‘curse’ of nickel, after an order by the Orthodox Church barred local priests
from becoming involved with the protests. ‘Churches round here really started to empty after that,’ Rudchenko told me, as we walked slowly towards the metal cross, with snow falling in large, powdery flakes. A white-bearded Orthodox priest would later bless the nickel-extraction site on behalf of the UGMK mining company, sprinkling holy water over excavators.
Around a hundred anti-nickel protesters – including elderly women, Cossacks in uniform and activists from across the political spectrum – had gathered at the remote site, many of them carrying religious icons and singing hymns. ‘The Cossacks are in the vanguard of the struggle, as it has always been in Russia,’ bellowed the Cossack leader, or ataman, 240 Kic k ing the Kremlin a tall, fair-haired man with a weather-beaten face. ‘They thought they could fool us, but you can’t fool the people.’
The crowd began to mutter, suddenly displeased. Had the ataman said something out of place? But no. The object of their sudden discontent was far across the frozen fields. From the road opposite, a figure dressed all in black had been filming participants for a good ten minutes before driving off. ‘FSB,’ whispered someone behind me, as the protesters made their way across the field to confront UGMK’s security guards. ‘What will you do when the mining starts and we come here to stop it?’ a plump, middle-aged woman asked a security guard, as she threw dog hair and salt on to the cordoned-off land. (‘It’s a spell! Witchcraft!’ she told me, with a wink.) ‘Will you shoot us?’ The head of security, stocky with a drooping moustache, shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘of course not.’
The woman was overjoyed. ‘Well, thank God for that!’ she said, and clapped. The brief confrontation over, the activists tramped back across the snowy fields. I caught up with the ataman, whose name I had found out was Igor Zhitenyev. In the immediate aftermath of the anti-Putin protests in Moscow, as part of its bid to reach out to the conservative heartland, the Kremlin encouraged a Cossack revival across Russia. In early 2013, Cossacks began patrolling a number of Russian cities on the lookout for illegal immigrants and other wrong-doers. They also took part in raids on art galleries and theatres deemed to have displayed ‘blasphemous’ material. But historically the Cossacks’ relationship with the authorities is a complicated one: these free spirits may have helped the tsar’s
troops to suppress peasant revolts brutally, but they also boast a proud tradition of rebellion and non-compliance. Indeed, as the anti-nickel Cossacks proudly informed me, the eighteenth-century Cossack rebel leader Kondraty Bulavin once hid out with his followers in the nearby Khoper woods. ‘We shall die as one rather than remain silent before the wicked deeds of evil men,’ Bulavin had declared.
His modern-day counterparts were equally defiant. ‘The authorities have sold out the people,’ Zhitenyev told me as he and his Cossacks walked away from the drilling site. ‘I was speaking to local administration officials recently and I told them: “The people are against the extraction of nickel.” “What people?” they laughed. “You lot aren’t the people.”
‘But if we aren’t the people, then who is?’ the Cossack leader asked, clearly baffled ‘We are a simple people, we don’t need much. Those officials steal and build themselves mansions, and we always just thought, “Ah, to hell with them,” and got on with our lives. But now they are even threatening our way of life. And our lives.
‘I really don’t know what’s going to happen if they start mining here,’ he went on. ‘Lots of people say, “I’d give my life to stop the nickel. At least then I won’t have to feel ashamed in front of my kids after they destroy the land.”’6
A Precedent for the Whole Country?
Back in the village of Novokhopyorsk, activists gathered at a makeshift HQ in a local house to discuss further tactics. The fussy housewives, potbellied market traders and middle-aged Cossacks sitting around a table laden with sausage, vodka and fruit were a far cry from the Moscow hipsters at the heart of anti-Putin protests in the Russian capital.
Significantly, though, one thing the Black Earth activists had in common with the Putin movement was the presence of nationalist and far-right elements among its ranks. ‘There are people in our eco-movement who believe all that Kremlin propaganda, that the anti-Putin demonstrations are funded by the US State Department, and so on,’ Rubakhin admitted, with a grimace.
Anti-Semitic slogans were also common at anti-nickel rallies. ‘Theywere shouting “Kill the Jews and the Yids!” at a recent protest,’ one of the handful of liberal activists in the movement told me later. ‘It’s a real dilemma for me to attend such events,’ he said. ‘On one hand, I’m against any nickel mining, but, on the other hand, do I really want anything to do with such people?’
Kicking the Kremlin
Concerns that the authorities would launch a violent crackdown were ever present among the activists. As more than one person had pointed out to me, it was only 300 miles or so from the region that in 1962 Red Army troops had shot dead more than twenty striking factory workers in the
city of Novocherkassk. Details of the massacre only became public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. (It would not have done for a ‘workers state’ to be seen to be gunning down workers.) ‘We’ve got nothing to be worried about,’ declared Rudchenko, perhaps a little too insistently.
‘They are not going to shoot us. We’ve got the internet and everything today. They wouldn’t dare.’ She turned to me and smiled: ‘Eat up!’
While the activists admitted that UGMK was unlikely to back down over the project, unless nickel prices fell, many of them were pinning their hopes on Putin seizing the chance to make himself look good in the region. And there was precedent for a presidential about-turn. In 2006, after local protests, Putin ordered changes to the planned route of an oil pipeline set to pass close to Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest body of fresh water. But not everyone was optimistic that history
was about to repeat itself.
‘What do you think?’ asked Oksana, a middle-aged housewife turned activist, as I set off the next morning to catch my bus. ‘Do we have a chance of stopping the project?’ I told her that, if they could bring the issue to wider public attention, and get public opinion on their side, then they had every chance of forcing a U-turn. After all, I assured her, Russia’s fragile democracy may be ‘managed’, but the authorities are still relatively sensitive to public opinion. Oksana wasn’t convinced. ‘I’m not sure,’ she sighed, as she tidied up the dishes and bottles left over from another night of heated
eco-debate. ‘Maybe, if Putin was different. But he’s so stubborn. We all know he really hates to be seen to back down.’
The violence that the Black Earth activists had so consistently predicted finally erupted in June 2013. After a demonstration in the village of Novokhopyorsk, some thousand protesters, headed by Cossacks bearing religious icons, made the long trek to UGMK’s on-site drilling equipment.
Once there, they simply tore down fences that had been erected to protect the expensive machinery and set it alight. Police and security guards scattered. Huge plumes of smoke bellowed into the pale-blue sky as protesters trailed away from the site. Months of peaceful protest had brought little or no result whatsoever, but what Rubakhin called the ‘people’s wrath’ led swiftly to a pledge from the authorities to investigate the legality of the nickel project. ‘Russians are a very patient people,’ the
Cossack leader Zhitenyev had told me, before the assault on the mining site. ‘But, when they lose hope, there’s no telling what they will do.’
It was a scenario that had been played out many times in Russia’s long history, from the ultra-violence of nineteenth-century peasant uprisings to the vigilante youths – the ‘Primorsky Partisans’ – who launched a spectacular war of terror against what they called corrupt and criminal
police officers in Russia’s Far East in 2010.7
‘What has happened today in the Black Earth region could act as a precedent for the whole country,’ predicted an opposition journalist in an online report as UGMK’s machinery burned. He could barely disguise his excitement.8 Tensions had exploded in the Black Earth. In Moscow, they were building once more. All eyes in the protest movement were on a small town in central Russia where Navalny was fighting for both his freedom and his political future. Putin’s crackdown was continuing. Another
show trial was underway.